When you first start your business, the initial launch is both thrilling and terrifying!

If you’re anything like me, as soon as getting your big idea out into the world started to feel real, two voices popped into your head:

Voice of your inner Disney Princess:
“If I do this business thing right, this could be my big break! It could change my life if I work hard enough at it… Anything is possible, right?”

Voice of your inner Denis Duffy (Liz Lemon’s terrible boyfriend on 30 Rock):
“Come on, dummy. The world, and especially the internet, is full of strangers and weirdos who will sue you or post terrible things on Yelp about you. Do you really want to get yourself into this trouble when you could be playing Halo!?”

But you’ve read Brené Brown! You’re not going to let the discouraging voice stop you!

So you persist. You start writing more. You post on social media. You read up on marketing, list building and getting traffic…

But it all seems a little hollow. You want more than that!

That means that you're officially at the point in your growth when many business owners like you start to wish, dream and work to build an engaged community around their work.

But how do you go about that when your business is still small and growing?

Share what you stand for

To start, you may know what you stand for, but do your customers? While you might know what kind of business you’re running and what guides your choices, your audience won't pick up those subtleties until you’ve written them down somewhere – like in your social media content, a blog post, or on your about page.

Ask yourself what do you love about your industry? What do you wish there was more of in the world? What’s the perspective missing from your niche that you wish got more attention? What will your business strive to do, and what will it never do? Be as precise as possible. Generalizations don’t move anyone.

Write up a few statements that share the kind of business you’re running, and add them to the about page on your website. Print them out and put them somewhere you & your team can see them. Look for opportunities to live them out. Dream up ways to include them in your social media and to encourage your audience to live them out alongside you through a hashtag or a challenge.

These details humanize your business and make you stand out from the crowd. That makes it easier for the people who could become your biggest supporters to find you.

Decide how you want to make people feel

What type of a relationship do you have with your customers? Transactional? Recurring? Personal and long-term?

Do you want your customers to feel like VIP insiders, or like they’re part of a bigger team? Do they need a cheerleader, a coach or a teammate from your business?

Each business will have different kinds of relationships with different types of customers, based on their spread of products and services.

For example, someone who buys your $2.99 eBook has a different level of trust and investment in your business than someone who's excited to buy a $2500 product or service. Not better or worse, just different.

When you know the kind and quality of the relationship you want to create, you can tailor the customer experience to create that. Examine the tone of your social media, the way you speak to your clients and the follow up you do.

When your communication is based on an intentional decision on how you want your relationship to feel, your customers will interpret that consistency as integrity. Nothing builds trust like integrity.

Most importantly you need to share your big ideas

When you first start promoting your work or your business, it’s hard to know how to sell beyond directly asking people to buy. You can and should do that, but if you aren't connecting back to big ideas and a story that's larger than your current sale, your engagement will suffer.

That's because your community isn't just a group of people ready to buy from you. It has separate goals from your business, and nurturing it means you should be there in service of your customers.

Building a community requires that you rally people around bigger ideas than your business.

Let's look at a quick case study of how bigger lifestyle brands tie themselves to big ideas…

Have you heard of Jenna Kutcher?

Jenna Kutcher is a social media darling with over 560k followers on Instagram.

Jenna is a former photographer who now sells social media training (that's her business). But her brand is tied to much bigger ideas around body acceptance, resilience, motherhood after loss, and self acceptance.

Over 80% of her posts tie back to her business or a project – but she has a thriving community. She's clearly not bothering anyone by showing up in their feeds!

So what's going on, and why does this work?

This works because she leads with the big story behind her work. That makes her relatable, which makes her audience feel like they could accomplish success too.

When you skip this and just repeatedly share your work without building a connection with your readers, your content feels impersonal. That adds to your readers or followers seeing it as a commodity.

Instead of a welcome suggestion of help, it feels like someone who shows up at your dinner party and launches into a sales pitch. So awkward, right?

Establish trust and buy in

Building community is all about building trust and establishing buy-in from your audience, so lead with your big ideas first.

Ways to do this:

  • Be a real person.
  • Talk about things that matter in your industry and ways to help your customers.
  • Use social media to share quotes that reinforce your brand values.
  • Share the story of why you do what you do, and why it matters to you.
  • Ask your customers to share their stories, and feature them.
  • Promote ideas, organizations, not-for-profits and other businesses that make the world a better place in a way that's meaningful to you.

Your business might be small, but building community before you’re ready also means that the big brands can’t compete with the personal engagement that you can give to your biggest supporters.

You can be interactive, try new things, and design a customer experience that’s tailored to delight your customers today. All of those things are investments that will grow your business long into the future.

Sometimes it seems like everything is on the other side of more customers, more website traffic or more of an advertising budget.

But a small group of dedicated supporters is completely within your reach if you start building it today.

You’ve got everything it takes, right now.